LA Magazine Meltdown Turns Into a ‘Mole Hunt’

This reporting is featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.

The meltdown over at Los Angeles continues as the once-esteemed magazine’s new owners cook up creative ways to stiff writers past and present, Confider has learned.

Since taking over the storied publication earlier this year, celebrity attorneys Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas and their publisher Chris Gialanella have refused to pay freelancers in a timely manner and owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to journalists. And last week we reported how the magazine began to make some of those payouts only after Confider first reached out for comment on the matter. We also exposed how Los Angeles is blurring the lines between editorial and advertorial under new editor-in-chief Shirley Halperin who has noticeably softened the mag’s editorial direction away from hard-hitting journalism.

Following Confider’s reporting last week, the new owners have embarked on a “mole hunt” to try and ferret out our sources, we’ve learned from multiple people familiar with the situation. “There’s a new level of paranoia about freelancers,” one LA mag insider told Confider.

The situation has apparently caught the attention of legacy media, as both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times are now working on their own stories about the magazine, Confider has learned.

Looking to shift the narrative away from the new ownership’s shoddy approach, the magazine last week relaunched its website—but it did not go off without a hitch. The byline of former digital editor Kevin Dolak, who left in April, bizarrely appeared on several articles, including cover stories and investigative features, where he was not the writer.

In response, Dolak angrily emailed magazine brass. “This needs to be corrected immediately; the error is being noticed by multiple authors of these articles—some of whom Engine Vision has not paid for this very work—and their attorneys,” he wrote in the email, obtained and reviewed by Confider. “And I do not want Los Angeles magazine and Engine Vision to use my name to credit me for writing that I did not do.”

Elsewhere, new boss Halperin, a former Billboard and High Times editor, was spotted lighting up a joint outside the magazine’s Downtown Los Angeles HQ (which is owned by Geragos and also houses his law offices) in the middle of the morning and was swiftly told by Gialanella that it was not a “good look” to smoke weed outside a major law firm. (Recreational use of marijuana is fully legal in California.)

Meanwhile, the magazine’s new owners have continued to alienate freelance writers, cutting back their per-word rate from $1 to $0.75. A new freelance contract from Engine Vision Media, obtained and reviewed by Confider, shows the Geragos-owned company demands writers sign over all prospective IP rights for their reporting, which were previously negotiated on a case-by-case basis. “The Work, as well as background notes and any other copyrightable material created in the course of creating the Work shall be the sole and exclusive property of Publisher,” the agreement states.

Several freelance reporters who spoke with Confider said they will no longer work for the magazine over its increasingly poor treatment of writers.

“Freelancers shouldn’t have to fight for the money they’re owed,” the Freelancers Union tweeted after Confider revealed how Geragos and Meiselas were months behind on paying writers. “@LAmag’s lack of respect for labor is egregious and illegal.”

None of the criticism has seemed to bother Los Angeles brass, however.

“Sales are up, digital engagement is way up, and business has never been doing better under the leadership of a brilliant female editor-in-chief,” Gialanella emailed Confider. “We love good music, good times, and good food and by the way what is a confider?”

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